Todd may ultimately be the greater work, but Company (1970, with book
by George Furth) is the essential Stephen Sondheim musical, brilliant
in itself and the key to understanding and appreciating all his
accomplishments as composer and lyricist.
you don't know
it, I encourage you to visit this imperfect but generally very
successful revival; if you're already a fan, you will find intriguing
new colours in director Joe Fredericks' vision of the show.
Company follows a 35-year-old bachelor as he observes all the flaws in his friends' marriages but then has to face the question of whether his life is any better. Fredericks' major innovation is to move Bobby's crisis much earlier than it is usually played, by showing that his confidence in the single life is wavering from the start.
The show opens
with an interpolated nightmare sequence, and Fredericks makes new use
of one of Sondheim and Furth's innovations - that many of the songs are
Brechtian comments on the action rather than part of it - by having
Bobby hear and be shaken by 'The Little Things', 'You Could Drive A
Person Crazy' (in a particularly clever restaging) and 'Poor Baby'.
confess to being
something of a purist about this show, and don't particularly like
Sondheim's 1995 addition of 'Marry Me A Little', but its inclusion does
add to the picture of Bobby changing as he goes along and not just at
the end. On the other hand, I think it is going too far to have him
drink and snort coke all through 'Side By Side', evidently to show how
desperately he has to work to keep up his cheery front.
aside from its
story, Company also boasts one brilliant show-stopping number after
another, and just about every one of them works. Playing Marta as a hip
downtown artist, Michelle Bishop invests 'Another Hundred People' with
the knowingness of one who has seen it all, while Cassidy Janson
captures all the sadness and comedy of the panicky bride Amy while also
mastering the technical challenge of the ultra-high-speed 'Getting
compliment I can give Siobhan McCarthy's Joanne is that she channels
Elaine Stritch in her icily self-loathing 'Ladies Who Lunch'.
Young embodies his director's vision of a man fighting a losing battle
against self-awareness from the start. He is not the best singer in the
cast, but he acts his songs well. I don't think he captures what
Sondheim calls 'an internal monologue of despair and self-deceptive
determination' in 'Marry Me A Little'. But I cannot fault his
heart-rending performance of the climactic 'Being Alive' in any way.
may be some
hiccups along the way - 'Marry Me A Little' doesn't work, 'Side By
Side' is cluttered, the lovely 'Barcelona' barely registers - but the
show is great, the director's vision is valid and intriguing, and the
most important moments all score with full power. One would be a churl
to ask for more.
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- Company - Southwark 2011